Monday, January 25, 2010
According to the New York Times, Westlaw and Lexis are about to modernize their web interfaces. It's about time! The article is short on details, but having read it, I'm not very optimistic that the updates will be anything near what they could and should be. Three years ago, I put my wishlist up on Prawfsblawg (see also the helpful comments there). I've reprinted the post after the jump.
Many of us spend a lot of our time using online reseach services, yet I think the blawgosphere has been largely silent about how these services can be improved. This is all the more surprising because Westlaw and Lexis charge many of their customers hundreds of dollars per hour, often just to access public documents! Here are some preliminary suggestions for improvements to Westlaw, the service I principally use. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions, or to tell me that I've missed some features that Westlaw actually does offer:
(1) Place bluebook-formatted citations to all sources at the top of every document. By cutting and pasting these uniform citations, Westlaw can save time for attorneys, law clerks, professors, students, and law review editors. I realize that citation formats vary by jurisdiction but Westlaw could offer default preferences based on one's preferred jurisdiction or citation style. In any event, right now, many documents offer no citation at all, and those that do hardly resemble any bluebook-style. When I use Westlaw's "copy with reference" feature, the reference often puts the document title in ALL CAPS, a format that virtually no one uses.
(2) Allow me to create multiple projects in Westlaw. I would like to drag-and-drop particular cases or other documents into a project folder (that may contain subfolders, as well). I'd like it if I could highlight particular passages of a case or article on screen, add comments to the document, and have all this information stored in my project folder. Documents and notes in these projects should be searchable. We should be able to give access to a project to certain other Westlaw users, like those at the same school or law firm.
(3) Speed up the interface and search tools. Westlaw's data set, large as it is, is just a fraction of the size of Google's. Yet Google is much faster and is free! (I do think Westlaw has sped up noticeably, though, in recent years.)
(4) Now that most people have broadband connections to the Internet, Westlaw can stop dividing up large cases and law review articles into difficult-to-search pieces.
(5) It's time for Westlaw to buy up the .pdf's for law reviews. Westlaw's format is rather unwieldy. Relatedly, it is sometimes confusing when cases offer page numbers in multiple formats, especially when the page numbers happen to be numerically close. Put a check box at the top of each case that allows me to see only the page numbering styles that I want to see.
(6) If additional features complicate the service, allow us to pick whether we would like beginner, intermediate, or advanced services. The amount of control that we're given over the search function (not enough now!) could also vary based on this selection. My colleague, Tom Smith, has made progress in developing alternative search methods, which suggests that Westaw has yet to do all it can to make its key feature--searching large amounts of text--as helpful as possible. Your turn. . .